Mike Conley collected a steal Friday to halt a Thunder transition opportunity, then immediately looked down the court. What he saw was both of Minnesota’s twin towers — Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert — in open floor space.
First Conley saw Gobert, and thought better of launching the ball full court to the 7-foot-1 defensive dominator. But then he saw Towns and figured, “Why not?”
“When Mike first picked it up and threw it, I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch admitted.
But, sure enough, Conley’s pass hit Towns on the money. Towns then turned and put up a perfect lob to Gobert, who flushed the ball down to put Minnesota up 109-80 with eight minutes to go in Friday’s play-in game against Oklahoma City at Target Center — the exclamation mark on Minnesota’s dominant victory.
“It was a great play,” Finch said. “Trust Mike.”
The head coach always had. Since Minnesota traded for the floor general back in February, Finch has put his entire trust in Conley, and that faith has paid off handsomely.
Conley’s steadying hand and calm demeanor are major reasons why the Timberwolves clinched their second consecutive playoff berth. They are also Minnesota’s best hope at pulling off a first-round upset of the top-seeded Denver Nuggets.
Man to man, Minnesota doesn’t necessarily lag behind Denver. The same was true a season ago when the Wolves squared off with Memphis. But Minnesota was unable to handle its business on countless occasions in that Grizzlies series, generally because the Timberwolves didn’t have the wherewithal to execute in critical situations.
While that’s certainly still been an issue this season, Conley is the type of pilot capable of guiding a plan through heavy turbulence. He’s done so on and off the court in his brief Timberwolves tenure.
Conley was a key calmer during the kerfuffle last week between Gobert and teammate Kyle Anderson. Anderson has been the fiery figure in Minnesota’s locker room all season, often igniting better performances from those around him. But as that Portland game demonstrated, the forward is also capable of overheating and causing collateral combustion, similarly to the likes of past Timberwolves players such as Jimmy Butler or Patrick Beverley.
Conley is the mandatory yin to Anderson’s yang, the chaser for the shot of Fireball. The wily veteran capable of teaching and instructing in a cool, collected manner that is conducive to being heard. When something is ailing the Wolves, it’s a good bet Conley has the solution. Because he’s likely encountered such an issue in the past and undoubtedly deciphered the code.
“Mike is just a stud,” Finch said. “Just super smart out there.”
Conley’s mere presence on the court automatically lowers his coach’s blood pressure.
“It’s that composure. You know you can give him the ball. You know you’re going to get into something. You’ll get a good decision,” Finch said. “His aggressiveness to score the ball has been exactly what we need. His ability to draw fouls and create. He’s been in so many games.”
Finch was thinking prior to Friday’s Thunder game about what a shame it would be if Minnesota failed to reach the postseason with Conley running the show. The veteran guard is a nearly permanent postseason resident. That holds true again this season, and he’s a big reason why.
Minnesota has so many talented pieces, but only with Conley does the puzzle at least occasionally seem to fit. He’s already diagnosed Minnesota’s strengths as a long, athletic team and best analyzed how to take advantage of that skillset to the team’s advantage.
“We have to play with a certain level of intensity, a certain level of urgency. In the midst of that, we’ve got to continue to learn from our mistakes, learn from film, because that’s our next level of growth,” Conley said. “We’ve always been able to scrap and get in the passing lanes and do different things, but can we manipulate the game when the time needs to be made? Can we cut for each other? Can we make the game easy for each other? We’re going to need all of that against Denver.”
That will require extra scouting, something Conley picked up in his early years from veterans such as Shane Battier, who would quiz the guard on who the officials were ahead of a given game. He’s hoping his teammates similarly pick up on his study habits. Conley noted maturity comes with time, but he can try to lead by example.
“I come in, do my work early, show them how you’re supposed to carry yourself on and off the court, taking care of your body, what you eat, how much you watch film, all of that, I try to let that trickle off onto each one of those guys, and eventually, it becomes a habit for all of them,” Conley said. “That’s the kind of attention to detail you’ve got to have. You can’t just go home and play video games. This is the time to do the extra work.”
As Conley exited his press conference, Towns entered the room for his, and immediately asked Conley if he’d be playing Call of Duty that evening — joining the big man and Anthony Edwards on the sticks.
“Watch some film, first,” Conley responded.
The lessons are still being imparted. But if Minnesota can learn on the fly from its floor general, perhaps it can ace its upcoming first-round quiz.
“I came into this thing a few months ago just trying to fit in as best I can and trying to help continue the success they were already having. Just to be a part of a franchise that’s moving forward and constantly getting better,” Conley said. “Being a part of this opportunity is huge for me. Later in my career, to be competing at the highest level again, this is an exciting time of year. I did not want to go home (Friday), so super excited about it.”
Want more Nuggets news? Sign up for the Nuggets Insider to get all our NBA analysis.
Source: Read Full Article